When one thinks of criminal activity in Redwood County, the issue of sex trafficking is not likely going to rise to the top of anyone’s list.
Yet, in reality, the dangers of this crime involving people from rural areas of the state are on the rise.
Accepting that truth was demonstrated this past Tuesday when the Redwood County Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution that urges the state legislature to amend what is known as the Safe Harbor Act in Minnesota.
That resolution would redefine all children under the age of 18 who have been involved in sex-trafficking as victims, not as juvenile offenders.
While Redwood County has not recently charged any sex trafficking crimes, Steven Collins, Redwood County attorney said the action to adopt this resolution is a step in the right direction, because it is sending a different message to those who truly are victims.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Justice Programs, as many as 30,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year in the United States.
In Minnesota, ac-cording to data compiled by The Advocates of Human Rights and the Office of Justice Programs of the De-partment of Public Safety there were 124 girls sold over the Internet during the month of August 2010 alone, with the average age of a girl’s entry into prostitution or sex trafficking being 12-14.
No, said Collins, the issue of sex trafficking in the U.S. is not limited to those stories of groups who bring girls over from third-world countries anymore.
Over the past dec-ade the number of sex trafficking incidents being traced back to Internet sites.
Yes, said Collins, there are issues of children from our area who run away from home, and there are times when those young people who end up in larger communities end up involved in things they never would have imagined.
At times, Collins added, children meet predators over the Internet, and those children end up in sexual encounters with those who are adults. We all recognize this as a crime, but Collins said this in a way can be defined as a sex trafficking crime.
“The Internet is a fantastic tool,” Collins said, adding, however, issues like these demonstrate the dark side of its capabilities.
The reality is there are people who are using the Internet to exploit children, and what the county has demonstrated through this resolution it is not going to consider those children who have been exploited as del-inquents but as the victims they are.
What makes Red-wood County unique when it comes to sex trafficking issues, said Collins, is its diversity, as the interconnectedness of cultures, be they Hmong or Native American, make children more susceptible to this crime.
Page 2 of 2 - Many of the studies used to create the resolution adopted by the county come from or-ganizations such as the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, which show just how real this issue is in rural America.
Collins said the message children who are in sex trafficking situations or have been exploited in this way can know through this resolution they can contact human services, law enforcement or even his office without the fear of being charged with a crime.
“We know there are victims in Redwood County,” said Collins, adding he emphasized to parents the importance of keeping an eye on the kinds of things their children are doing and who they are calling on their cell phones.
Sex trafficking is a crime that occurs throughout the state and impacts children of diverse backgrounds.
Redwood County has in adopting this resolution demonstrated it is going to be a true place of safe harbor to those who are the victims of this heinous crime.